During David Hickton’s tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, from 2010-16, his office took the lead in pursuing cyber crimes and terrorism.
Now, Hickton is starting a new career path as founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.
“With the appointment of David Hickton, the University of Pittsburgh is poised to offer significant contributions to the national discussion on cyber-related issues affecting personal, national, and global security and privacy,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.
According to Hickton, the institute will combine efforts in cyber law, policy, technology and security.
“Cyber is so much bigger than security and if you use the term cyber security narrowly, it almost sounds like a protection agency or something like how to prevent unwanted intrusions into your system,” Hickton said. “That's really just a small part of what we aspire to deal with.”
He said the institute will also work toward “cyber enabling” to tap into the positive capacity of the internet, for example in medical research and treatment, while continuing to work “protecting people from cyber villains.”
Hickton gained national and international attention when his office led several high profile investigations including:
- Indicting Scottish terrorist Adam Busby for making several bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh and trying to extort the university;
- Indicting five members of the Chinese army for cyber theft from U.S. Steel, Alcoa, Westinghouse, Allegheny International and the United Steelworkers of America;
- Indicting Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev who allegedly made millions by selling financial information he stole from Americans;
- Dismantling the computer hacking forum known as "Darkode" in which cyber criminals bought, sold and traded stolen information.
Busby, a Scottish separatist, was convicted in Ireland in 1997 and again in 2010 for making bomb threats. According to the Guardian newspaper, a court in Scotland declared he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial on charges of threatening to bomb several Scottish bridges and poison water supplies in England.
Bogachev remains free in Russia which does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. According to the FBI, a $3 million reward has been offered for Bogachev.
But Hickton called the indictment of the Chinese army members “the watershed case” because it exposed an entire network that China had in the U.S.
Hickton said that case changed the way China dealt with America, and “it’s been documented that there’s been a sevenfold decrease in hacking (by the Chinese) since that case was filed.”
He said the greatest day-to-day cyber challenge to the average citizen is a hacker harvesting their personal and financial information.
But, he added, the greatest threat comes from a nation or a terrorist network using the internet to attack America’s power grid or air traffic system or financial network.
"People have used the term a, 'Cyber Pearl Harbor' or a 'Cyber 9/11,'” Hickton said. "It is the crime paradigm of this era, and to defeat it we must have the full participation of the public and private sectors, as well as the university community.”